It’s pretty tough to stand out in podcasting today. There are a lot of shows out there.
It’s no doubt daunting to think of how your new show will fare in this growing competitive landscape.
But it doesn’t have to be so contentious if you know what to focus on. And what you should focus on is your audience.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on a show called Command Line Heroes from Red Hat since its first season in 2017. It’s a pretty successful show by our standards here at Pacific Content in that they’ve really pursued creative bravery and the numbers have not disappointed — downloads but more importantly, episode retention rates. They’ve even won some awards.
Command Line Heroes has naturally evolved over the years, but one thing that has been constant is the show’s commitment to its audience.
The audience is even in the show’s description: Command Line Heroes tells the epic true tales of how developers, programmers, hackers, geeks, and open source rebels are revolutionizing the technology landscape.
This is a show about those people and for those people. Keeping this core audience in our sights has been the north star for everyone working on the show.
I will admit the audience as defined above is still quite broad but Red Hat has put a lot of effort into getting to know this varied group so they could offer stories that resonate while creating a community of fans.
1 | Listen, listen
I can’t take any credit for the many efforts the Red Hat team has put into understanding their audience but I’ve benefited greatly as a producer knowing what they’ve learned.
Early in the show’s life they hired a caricature artist to join them at conferences. Technologists would sit down to have portraits done in the style of a superhero on a comic book cover and be simultaneously interviewed about their individual origin stories and interests. The Red Hat team noted what people got excited talking about and that, in turn, informed what the show would later cover editorially. For example, programming languages were often talked about — everyone seems to have a story about the first programming language they learned. We ended up doing a whole season about the origin of a range of programming languages and it was one of the most listened to seasons in the show’s history. (Season 3 if you’re curious.)
Listening to your target audience seems like such a simple tip but you’d be surprised how many shows let people in marketing decide what the audience wants without going out and getting some confirmation by actually talking to the people who will make up the target audience.
Knowing the kinds of stories your audience is interested in is crucial. It speaks to content they might not be finding elsewhere and directs your team to better understand what problem your podcast could solve for them. That might be that they don’t see themselves represented in your field, so maybe there’s an appetite for stories of underrepresented voices. Red Hat wanted to address this exact gap and did a season about overlooked inventors (Season 6). It could also be perspectives not already published or just giving people a sense of pride for being part of the community you’re covering. People look to podcasts for a lot of different reasons. Learn what some of those reasons are for your target audience.
2 | Your podcast as a gift
Something Red Hat has understood since day one is that a podcast is not like any other marketing campaign. Measurement units can be tricky when download numbers aren’t everything.
The team has been quite clear internally about what this show is being hired to do: build brand awareness and affinity. That’s it. There’s no sale of products in the show. It’s made to be a gift to the audience. An educational and entertaining gift that has the opportunity to put Red Hat on people’s radar as a thought leader. And listeners appreciate this, as indicated in some of the brand lift studies Red Hat runs.
They also understand the power of gifts that come with nice wrapping leave a lasting impression. In the podcasting world nice wrapping includes beautiful episode art.
3 | Employ memorable engagement, beyond the RSS feed
A final step for any successful podcast is promoting the show once it’s published. Brands have superpowers here because of their owned channels. Red Hat has always gone one step further.
Command Line Heroes the show lives well beyond the RSS feed. Their website isn’t simply a summary of episodes but a launch point to a ton of additional content.
They also take season themes and bring them offline. For example, Season 2 covered the influence of early gaming and as a side project they made an open source game people could contribute to. They then brought in open source video games on custom-built arcade cabinets to industry events. People lined up to play Red Hat’s Command Line Heroes game — a fun and interactive experience amidst a conference, and a way to attract new audiences.
4 | Target your reach
Really knowing the kinds of people who would be interested in your show can help you reach them in less conventional ways.
Knowing your audience means knowing what kinds of other podcasts they might be listening to. Red Hat has had success with paid promotion on other shows with similar audiences. Command Line Heroes is distinct enough that audiences can like something like Darknet Diaries and this new show about programming heroes they’re just hearing about.
Lastly I have to say there must be something about people who work around open source technology. I’m not sure this can be replicated but I’ve always been impressed by the open and generous spirit the team at Red Hat bring to their work. They’re curious and inclusive. Fun and friendly. Some traits to consider when putting together your podcast team.
I summarize all this for you now because Command Line Heroes is taking a break — we’re dreaming up the next big show to come from the wonderful people at Red Hat. And so now seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on what has made this show a success, what they got right, and what other brands can learn to make a show that really connects with a target audience. This could be what sets your show apart from the rest.
Special thanks to Elisabeth Hames, our Red Hat audience development specialist, who confirmed I’m not making this up and the above is true.